Round Up: June’s Recipes for Life challenge

June’s Recipes for Life challenge has been making me very hungry. All month long, tempting images of delicious pasta dishes have been popping up on my Twitter timeline or arriving in my inbox.

The challenge this month was to cook simple, healthy dishes with salmon, courgette (zucchini) and pasta. So what did you come up with?

spurscooksalmon

Martin, aka Spurs Cook, kicked things off with his attractive Salmon and Prawn Fishballs in a Tomato and Courgette Sauce The fish balls are served in a rich tomato sauce, flavoured with basil and garlic, giving the salmon and courgettes some ‘show time’.

shetland salmon orzo
As ever the photography from Elizabeth’s Kitchen is just exquisite, and these pictures of her Foil-baked Shetland Salmon with Orzo & Courgette Ribbons are no exception. The courgette ribbons are a simple way to create a very sophisticated and elegant looking dish.

bluekitchenbakes
While it might feature smoked salmon, normally considered a bit of a luxury treat, Blue Kitchen Bakes’ Smoked Salmon, Courgette (Zucchini) & Dill Pasta is an economical and satisfying dish, featuring value brand smoked salmon trimmings which totally suit Jen’s student budget.

jibberjabber

Another dish to make the most of these supermarket trimmings is this Smoked Salmon and Courgette (Zucchini) Pasta from JibberJabberUK. It’s a lovely light and summery pasta dish and I do like the idea of grating the courgette. Will be trying that tip very soon…

salmon cannelloni
Helen from The Crazy Kitchen created these simply gorgeous Salmon Canneloni, despite not being much of a fan of fish herself. Helen’s husband was rather happy with the choice of ingredients though, and I’d be more than happy if this was served up for me!

ontopofspag
Party nibbles weren’t really something I expected to see this month, but these Smoked Salmon, Raw Courgette (Zucchini) and Spearmint Cannelloni Bites from On Top of Spaghetti were a very welcome surprise entry. They formed part of an amazing birthday party spread prepared by Eleni for the The Mister, and I love the sound of the minty, lemony flavour combination.

salmoncarbonara
Carbonaras are rather popular at Chez Foti. Here at Bangers & Mash, we’re rather partial to Louisa’s sausage and courgette carbonara. For this challenge, Louisa has come up with a Smoked Salmon and Courgette Carbonara, which looks all set to become another family favourite for us too.

angelhair
Spurs Cook delivered another very tasty looking dish with his Angel Hair Pasta with Salmon and Courgettes. I like the idea of the salmon with the smoky pancetta – yum!

pasta-salad-2
Next is this wonderful Warm Pasta Salad with Courgette & Herbs from Sarah at The Garden Deli. Now as you probably know, Sarah is vegetarian so salmon isn’t an ideal ingredient for her. So we agreed she could enter her salad featuring the other two ingredients, and I’d have a go at making it to ensure it worked with salmon too. And indeed it did. It’s a great mix of flavours, especially with all those fresh herbs. Above you’ll see Sarah’s version sans salmon, and mine below avec.

warm pasta and salmon salad

I had to play a little with the ingredients for my take on The Garden Deli’s pasta salad, as I’m allergic to avocado and my friend’s son, who was over for lunch, doesn’t like cheese, so I tried disguising it by grating it and letting it melt in, rather than serve as shavings on top. I also left out the chilli as I was cooking for kids, but next time it’s definitely staying in!

salmon-orzotto
This Smoked Salmon & Courgette Orzotto from Claire at Under The Blue Gum Tree really looks as pretty as a picture, and having made several of her dishes in the past, I know it will taste every bit as good as it looks. Risottos are usually fairly time-consuming, with all that stirring required, but Claire has used orzo pasta for a much speedier alternative. A beautifully delicious and healthy dish – I can’t wait to make it for my family.

salmon and courgette raviolli
Here’s another stunning plate, this time from Rich in Flavour with his Salmon and Courgette Ravioli. I’ve never made my own pasta before, but I think dish might just have inspired me. According to Rich, it’s not all that difficult and is really rather satisfying, plus he didn’t need a special pasta maker either – just a rolling pin. With its creamy salmon filling, this is one I’m definitely bookmarking.

salmon croquettes
Finally, I thought I’d better bring something to the table. So here are my Simple Salmon Croquettes with Courgette & Baby Leek Hollandaise. They really are very easy to make and a great one to get the children involved in making. They love rolling the little fish balls, and their hands are the perfect size. The main ingredient of the balls is tinned salmon, so it’s a fairly cheap and cheerful recipe too.

So who takes the winner’s medal this month? It was no easy task to select a winner this time and as ever I was grateful the decision wasn’t up to me. Tracey and the cookery club at SWALLOW had that unenviable task. So who did they choose…?

Well, they simply couldn’t decide between Blue Kitchen Bakes’ Smoked Salmon, Courgette and Dill Pasta and Spurs Cooks’ Salmon & Prawn Fishballs in Tomato and Courgette Sauce. Tracey and the team at SWALLOW loved both dishes and thought they’d make perfect meals for the group to have a go at in their cookery lessons. So well done to both Jen and Martin – some little prizes will be coming your way in the post very soon!

The three ingredients for July’s Recipes for Life will be announced very soon. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about the challenge and the work of SWALLOW take a look here.

Simple salmon croquettes with courgette and baby leek hollandaise

salmon croquettes

This is a pretty quick and easy meal to rustle up, particularly if you’ve got little children whose hands are the perfect size for rolling the little croquettes – a posh name for fish balls basically.

salmon croquettes

It’s also quick and easy if, like me, you cheat and buy a ready-made hollandaise sauce, rather than making your own from scratch. Clearly homemade hollandaise is what we should all aspire to, but when you’re working full-time like I am at the moment, it’s just not always possible. And there are some rather nice shop-bought ones around.

courgettes and baby leeks

I served my croquettes with pasta and the hollandaise sauce combined with courgette and baby leek. Or you could simply serve the baked balls with dips as an appetizer, or perhaps with salad as an alternative to falafel for a tasty pitta bread filling.

salmon croquettes

Simple salmon croquettes with courgette and baby leek hollandaise

Serves 4

1 tin salmon (around 200g)
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1 tbsp cream cheese
juice of half a lemon
large pinch of dried dill weed
½ tsp dried tarragon
salt and pepper
1 baby leek, finely sliced
1 courgette, quartered lengthways and sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
200g ready-made hollandaise sauce (I bought a Tesco own brand variety)
handful of fresh chives, snipped

Preheat the oven to 180°C / gas mark 4.

Drain the tinned salmon and flake into a mixing bowl. Combine with the spring onions, cream cheese, lemon juice, herbs and salt and pepper to taste.

Using your hands shape the mixture into small balls and place on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper. Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until slightly browned.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by gently frying the leek and courgette in the olive oil. When tender simply combine with the hollandaise sauce and heat through.

Serve with your favourite pasta. You can either mix the croquettes into the sauce (being careful so as not to break them) or pop the croquettes onto your pasta and pour over the sauce. Finally garnish with some snipped chives.

As this dish is so easy and uses the three key ingredients of salmon, courgette and pasta, I’m entering it into this month’s Recipes for Life challenge, which – as I’m sure you’ve gathered by now – I’m hosting on behalf of the incredibly fantastic charity SWALLOW.

recipes for life

My take on The Garden Deli’s warm pasta salad

warm pasta and salmon salad

You may have heard the three ingredients for this month’s Recipes for Life challenge are salmon, courgette (zucchini) and pasta.

Sarah from The Garden Deli has been an active supporter of the Recipes for Life challenge since it started back in February. Only problem is, sometimes the trio of ingredients include meat or, as is the case this month, fish. And as Sarah is a vegetarian that’s presented a slight problem. But because both SWALLOW and Bangers are inclusive types, and because Sarah asked so nicely, we’re happy to let her enter a vegetarian dish on the proviso that I test it out to see if it works with said meaty/fishy ingredient.

So that’s what I bring you here – Sarah’s Warm Pasta Salad with Courgette & Herbs, but with my addition of some oven-baked Scottish salmon.

SalmonCollage

I topped a couple of Scottish salmon steaks with lemon slices and a grind of black pepper and then wrapped them loosely in foil. I then baked them in a fairly hot oven for around 15 minutes until just cooked through, when the bright pink turned pale pink. At the final stage of assembling the salad, I flaked chunks of the salmon into the dish.

Unfortunately I’m allergic to avocado so I had to adjust Sarah’s recipe a little more by boosting the amount of courgette and adding half a green pepper to the recipe too. Because I was cooking it for friends and their children as well as our own, I decided to omit the chilli as I wasn’t sure if their kids would be able to handle it. I only had cherry tomatoes rather than plum, and I grated the parmesan rather than slicing it as I knew one of my friend’s children wasn’t too keen on cheese so I attempted to disguise it by mixing it in before serving. Oh, and the fresh herbs I chose to use were oregano as we have so much in the garden right now.

But other than those little divergences, I stuck to Sarah’s recipe, and very good it was too. We enjoyed it for lunch today, and I’ll be having the leftovers for supper once I’ve got this blog post out the way.

warm pasta and salmon salad

I would definitely recommend giving Sarah’s recipe a go. Next time I make it I will definitely add chilli. It was fine without but I think it would be all the better for that little chilli kick. Chilli and lime are a match made in heaven, as they say.

I’m hosting the Recipes for Life challenge on behalf of the charity SWALLOW. Based in Midsomer Norton in the South West of England, this incredible charity works hard to support adults with learning disabilities live life to the full. One of their popular activities is the weekly cookery club and this challenge aims to find simple, tasty and wholesome dishes SWALLOW users can recreate in their cookery classes. The best of these will appear in a new cookbook SWALLOW is planning publish later this year to help raise much-needed funds for the charity.

If you’d like to enter this month’s challenge, you’d better get your skates on as the closing date is 25 June – only two days away.

recipes for life

June’s Recipes for Life challenge: salmon, pasta and courgette (aka zucchini)


salmonpastacourgetteCollage

I’m still recovering from writing the round-up last night for May’s Recipes for Life, so I’m keeping this post short and sweet.

The three ingredients for June’s Recipes for Life are salmon (fresh, smoked, tinned or cured), pasta (dried, fresh, homemade, shop-bought, you can even use a tin of spaghetti hoops if you’re so inclined!) and courgette – also known as zucchini in certain parts of the world.

So get your culinary thinking caps on! What tasty creations can you come up with featuring salmon, pasta and courgette?

recipes for life

Through the Recipes for Life challenge, we’re looking for easy-to-follow, healthy dishes for members of SWALLOW’s cookery club to recreate in their sessions. Any other ingredients you use should therefore be readily available in most grocers or supermarkets.

SWALLOW is an amazing charity based in Midsomer Norton, which supports adults with learning disabilities to lead more independent lives.

The Recipes for Life challenge is running for six months and at the end, the best recipes will be included in SWALLOW’s new cookery book to help raise much-needed funds for the charity.

Recipes for Life: how to enter

  1. Display the Recipes for Life badge (shown above and available here) on your recipe post, and link back to this challenge post.
  2. You may enter as many recipe links as you like, so long as they are based on the three main ingredients selected for this month and accompanied only by everyday items.
  3. Send your recipe URL to me at vanesther-at-reescommunications-dot-co-dot-uk, including your own email address and the title of your recipe or post. The closing date this month is Tuesday 25 June 2013.
  4. If you tweet your post, please mention #RecipesforLife@BangerMashChat and@SWALLOWcharity in your tweet and we will retweet each one we see.
  5. Feel free to republish old recipe posts, but please add the information about this challenge and the Recipes for Life badge.
  6. As entries come in, links to these will be added to this page and at the end of the month there will be a round-up of all entries received.
  7. SWALLOW staff and members will choose their favourite recipe at the end of each month, and the winner will receive a small prize.
  8. A selection of recipes entered each month will be featured in the SWALLOW cookbook to be published later this year, helping the charity to raise much-needed funds for its ongoing work.

Thanks to everyone who has supported and taken part in Recipes for Life so far. We can’t wait to see your entries for June!

June’s entries

  1. Salmon and Prawn Fishballs in a Tomato and Courgette Sauce from Spurs Cook
  2. Foil-baked Shetland Salmon with Orzo & Courgette Ribbons from Elizabeth’s Kitchen 
  3. Smoked Salmon, Courgette (Zucchini) & Dill Pasta from Blue Kitchen Bakes
  4. Smoked Salmon and Courgette (Zucchini) Pasta from JibberJabberUK

  5. Salmon Canneloni from The Crazy Kitchen
  6. Smoked Salmon, Raw Courgette (Zucchini) and Spearmint Cannelloni Bites from On Top of Spaghetti
  7. Smoked Salmon and Courgette Carbonara from Chez Foti

  8. Angel Hair Pasta with Salmon and Courgettes from Spurs Cook
  9. Warm Pasta Salad with Courgette & Herbs from The Garden Deli
  10. Smoked Salmon & Courgette Orzotto from Under The Blue Gum Tree
  11. Salmon and Courgette Ravioli from Rich in Flavour
  12. Simple Salmon Croquettes with Courgette & Baby Leek Hollandaise from Bangers & Mash

Watercress and pistachio pesto

spaghetti with watercress and pistachio pesto

I was recently given a new hand mixer and so, naturally, the first thing I had to try it out on was homemade pesto.

Normally I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to pesto. I could eat basil and pine nut pesto every day and never tire of it. It brings back very fond memories of inter-railing around Europe with my best friend after our A-levels. The only food we could really cook in our basic hostel kitchens was pasta and pesto from a jar. Washed down with a cheap bottle of plonk, we couldn’t have been happier. And then we ate fresh pesto in Italy and we were happier still.

But as my husband isn’t much of  a pesto fan, I have started to experiment with different variations. Wild garlic pesto was a big hit last year and I look forward to picking some again from the local hedgerows when spring finally decides to turn up here in Somerset.

One of my favourite food bloggers is Louisa at Chez Foti who happens to be a bit of a pesto aficionado. I love the look of her stilton, walnut and parsley pesto and will be trying it soon. In this same blog post Louisa helpfully listed a whole menu of ideas for anyone wanting to dabble in a little pesto experimentation.

One of her suggestions was watercress, which is a particular favourite ingredient of mine. And so I came up with this recipe for watercress and pistachio pesto. I thought it might be a little peppery for the children but that wasn’t an issue at all. They wolfed it down and came back for more. A definite success. Bear in mind that if you do add the Ricotta at the end, you’ll need to use the pesto within a couple of days. If you leave it out, the pesto will keep in a glass jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

making watercress pistachio pesto

Watercress and pistachio pesto

Serves 6 to 8

80g watercress
1tsp rock salt
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
60g Parmesan, grated
60g shelled pistachio nuts
150 ml olive oil – the best quality you can afford
2 tbsp Ricotta cheese

In a blender, process the watercress, salt, and garlic until well chopped. Add the Parmesan, pistachio nuts and olive oil and blend until fairly smooth and creamy.

Scrape into a bowl and fold in the Ricotta cheese. Serve with pasta of your choice. Personally I always go for spaghetti with pesto.

spaghetti with watercress and pistachio pesto

If you have featured a pesto recipe on your blog, please feel free to include a URL in the comments below and I’ll be more than happy to  link up to it!

I am entering this recipe in the #TuscanyNowCookOff. It might not be the most authentically Italian pesto, but it might possibly get through on creativity!

Round-up: February’s Recipes for Life Challenge

Thank you to everyone who took part in February’s Recipes for Life and got this new challenge off to such a brilliant start.

The idea behind the challenge is to come up with tasty, wholesome and easy-to-cook recipes that revolve around just three main ingredients and that can be cooked by members of SWALLOW’s cookery club. Each month we have a different set of ingredients and one winner will be named. The best of the recipes submitted will be included in a new charity cookbook  SWALLOW is planning to publish later this year.

The theme in February was sausage, onion and tomato, and we received a fantastic assortment of recipes. I knew you lot wouldn’t let us down.

So without further ado, here is the all-important round-up:

I kicked off the challenge with these incredibly easy Sausage Meatballs, based on a recipe from Nigellisima – a perfect meal to cook when the children have their friends home for tea. Because who doesn’t like meatballs?

Sausage-Pasta-Bake

Next up was this wonderfully versatile and frugal Sausage Meat Sauce for Pasta Bakes or Sloppy Joes from Fuss Free Flavours. Skinning your sausages helps make a little go a long way and this dish sees just two sausages feed four people, plus you can use whatever veggies you happen to have in. The end result is a scrummy sauce to serve with pasta or as the filling in a sandwich for a seriously good Sloppy Joe.

sausage-lasagne

Thankfully Under The Blue Gum Tree has broken her resolve of not taking part in any new blog challenges in 2013 and entered this delicious Sausage Lasagne into Recipes for Life. Admittedly making a lasagne takes a little time and there are quite a few steps, but for something so satisfyingly tasty, we reckon it’s well worth the effort.

Now don’t these Slow Cooker Turkey Sausages and Veg in the Red look good? This is what you could end up with if you use up what you happen to have in your fridge. Or at least if you live in On Top of Spaghetti’s house anyway! A fabulously warming dish featuring turkey sausages, aubergine (egg plant), peppers, herbs and spices.

I’m a big fan of pearl barley as a tasty, cheap and cheerful way to fill empty tummies on a wintry day. And they are absolutely perfect in stews, casseroles or hotpots, such as this Thrifty Sausage, Vegetable and Pearl Barley Hotpot from Utterly Scrummy Food for Families. Michelle from Utterly Scrummy says it’s also an ideal way to use up leftover cooked sausages or cooked chicken.

Lentils are another popular ingredient for the frugal cook, and don’t they look rather good in this Sausage Casserole from Matt and Corpy, the two foodie dads who comprise The Good Stuff? The perfect winter warmer served with lots of crusty bread to mop up all those lovely juices – waste not, want not!

There’s nothing like a hotpot to warm the cockles on a cold, winter’s day, and this Sausage, Bean and Veggie Hotpot from Chez Foti looks like it would take some beating in the cockle-warming stakes. Made with one pack of sausages and stuffed full of vegetables and beans, it’s hearty enough to feed a family of four, twice!

Puff pastry tarts are great, aren’t they? They’re superbly versatile and you can get all creative trying out different toppings. As with this Sausage & Onion Tart from Sarah at The Garden Deli, or rather Sarah’s son actually. He came up with this tart as their entry for Recipes for Life after making something similar in his food technology lesson at school. We never cooked anything half this tasty when I was at school! Can’t wait to see what Sarah’s son comes up with for March’s challenge…

pastyCheck out this Jumbo Mediterranean Sausage Pasty from The Crazy Kitchen – now doesn’t that look the business? Despite the list of ingredients, it’s ever so easy to make and creates hardly any washing up – a real bonus in my eyes! Filled with delicious tastes of the Mediterranean, such as feta cheese and olives, and of course some good meaty sausages, I know this would definitely keep my family happy.

Next we have this gorgeous Sausage Ragu from Annie at The Foodie Blog, who you might know better from Twitter as @mammasaurusblog. It’s another excellent family-friendly recipe that’s a doddle to rustle up when time is short, and that’s both tasty and wholesome to boot.

soba noodlesThese Quick and Easy Soba Noodles from Fun as a Gran make for such a colourful teatime dish and they also have the additional benefit of being gluten-free, dairy-free, and egg-free. If soba noodles aren’t your thing and you’re gluten-tolerant, then you can use regular spaghetti.

sausage and pepper pasta

Pasta is as much a family-favourite as sausage, which is probably why it’s made so many appearances this month in Recipes for Life. Vanessa at JibberJabberUK teams them up here in her yummy Sausage and Pepper Pasta, which she says is equally good made with vegetarian sausages. I know my kids would adore this for their tea.

And finally, Jacki managed to get her Sausage, Chorizo & Chickpea Stew in by the skin of her teeth, and I’m so glad she did as it sounds absolutely divine. Jacki isn’t a blogger so I can only share a PDF for her recipe but I’m planning on cooking up her stew myself and I promise to feature it on the blog together with photos very soon.

But, of course, there can only be one winner. And so I’m very pleased to announce that first prize in February’s Recipes for Life Challenge goes to… *drum roll* Chez Foti’s Sausage, Bean & Veggie Hotpot.  Tracey who runs SWALLOW’s cookery club said they chose Chez Foti’s dish “because it’s just perfect for the cold weather and they all thought it would be warming, filling, nutritious and it could be half-cooked at the cookery group and then finished off when they got home for dinner.”

So a huge congratulations to Louisa from Chez Foti on winning the first ever Recipes for Life – a small prize will be winging its way in the post to you very soon. And also a special mention to Helen at The Crazy Kitchen whose Jumbo Mediterranean Sausage Pasty came a very close second.

Thanks again to you all for taking part in the first month of Recipes for Life and we hope you all get involved again in March – the next three ingredients will be announced very soon so watch this space for details.

Fusilli with Broad Beans and Mint

This is a quick and easy pasta dish for summer days when you don’t want to spend hours slaving over a hot stove. Flavoured with fresh mint and zingy lemon, it’s ideal for using up the last of those broad beans on the veggie patch.

Fusilli with Broad Beans and Mint

Serves 3 to 4

200g dried fusilli
100g shelled broad beans
3tbsp creme fraiche
juice of half a lemon
large handful of fresh mint, chopped
125g grated Cheddar cheese
glug extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.

Meanwhile boil or steam the broad beans for a few minutes until just cooked, with a little bite, and drain. Refresh in cold water.

When the pasta is tender, drain – reserving a little of the pasta water, and return the pasta to the hot pan.

Add the broad beans, creme fraiche, lemon juice, mint, cheese and olive oil to the pasta and mix thoroughly until the pasta is well coated. Stir in a little of the pasta water to loosen the sauce if required. Season to taste and serve.

There you go – told you it was easy!

As this dish features lots of lovely broad beans, I’m entering it into August’s Simple and in Season – a wonderful blog challenge hosted by Ren Behan at Fabulicious Food, celebrating the best in seasonal produce.

And as mint is another star of this dish, I’m also entering it into August’s Herbs on Saturday challenge, hosted by Karen Burns Booth at Lavender & Lovage.

Penne with chicken, tarragon and broccoli

Tarragon is one of my favourite herbs, especially when paired with chicken. Its unique flavour lifts simple dishes to new heights.

I first got excited about tarragon many years ago when my father-in-law cooked us Elizabeth David’s sumptuous poulet et l’estragon one summer holiday in France. It was incredible and my husband and I have recreated it many times since and it always takes us back to those long hot days in the Dordogne.

But that is really one to save for special occasions (my husband last cooked it for me on my birthday), while this pasta dish is much more of a quick, every day family favourite. Nonetheless it tastes fantastic and all because of that lovely fresh tarragon.

Penne with chicken, tarragon and broccoli

400g dried penne pasta
250g purple sprouting broccoli, cut into manageable chunks
1 large leek, washed and finely sliced
2 skinless chicken breasts, cut into bitesize pieces
2 tbsp vegetable oil
70ml chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
100g cream cheese
salt and pepper

Cook the penne in a large pan of salted water following the packet timings. About five minutes from the end of the cooking time, add the broccoli to the pasta water and cook until both pasta and broccoli are tender. Drain.

While the pasta (and broccoli) are cooking, heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the leeks and sweat gently for a couple of minutes. Add the chicken pieces and cook for about five minutes until there is no sign of any pink inside.

Pour the stock into the pan, stir well and cook for a couple of minutes before stirring in the tarragon and cream cheese. Season to taste. Mix in the pasta and broccoli and serve.

I’m entering this dish into July’s Herbs on Saturday blog challenge, set up by Lavender & Lovage and hosted this month by me! If you have a herby recipe you’d like to enter, you can find out all the details here.

Highs and lows in the Bangers & Mash kitchen – part 5

The last few weeks have been as busy as ever in the Bangers & Mash house. I jetted off to Amsterdam and London for work leaving my darling Mashettes to fend for themselves for a few days. I’ve never been apart from my family for that long before but of course when it came to food they were all sorted, as I’d left them with a trusty meal plan…

That’ll be me then. In the Dam.

Amsterdam was wonderful. The last time I visited I was in my early twenties and it felt quite strange going back all grown up and all professional. I was there for the Meet the Blogger event for interior design bloggers at the simply stunning Conservatorium Hotel. If you’ve ever seen my home, you’ll know how incongruous I felt being at a conference for glamorous ladies talking about the latest in home design trends. But my role there was to tweet and blog about the proceedings, and I’m always happy when tasked with writing. There is a lovely short film documenting Meet the Blogger if you’re interested…

As I was there in a work capacity I didn’t have much opportunity unfortunately to really explore Amsterdam’s restaurant scene, although I did enjoy a rather splendid steak somewhere I can’t remember the name of at the end of a very long day. And I was also taken to a lovely bakery for a quick bite of lunch on my way back to the train station. De Bakkerswinkel bakes superb bread, as well as pastries, cakes, pies and all kinds of baked delights. I only had a simple ham and cheese roll but it was sensational and a delicious way to end my stint in the Dam.

De Bakkerswinkel in Amsterdam

A day after getting back from Holland, I had to head off to London for a trade show where I was helping out as a press officer on a client’s stand. I can’t say the event was all that exciting but it was a good chance to catch up with my Dad and step-mum Sue the night before as they live in Tottenham. And I finally got to see their amazing new kitchen, which they’ve been talking about and planning for oh, only the last 20 years or so. I am now green with envy. I want a new kitchen. Now.

My step-mum Sue in her beautiful new kitchen

But back to the food. I’ve been trying out some really rather good recipes lately. Initially I was rather disappointed with my attempt at a lamb and rosemary crumble. When it came out of the oven it just didn’t look particularly appetising and so I didn’t bother taking any photographs. Yet it tasted surprisingly good. I’m to work on it a bit more to see if I can make it look as good as it tastes.

My rhubarb, strawberry and lemon tart creation went down rather well, although this was another dish that wasn’t much of a looker.

Strawberry, rhubarb and lemon tart

Another tart that turned out well was a butternut squash tart with blue cheese, spinach and ricotta. It was one of those very simple affairs where you roll out some ready-made puff pastry, smother it with a few choice ingredients and bake. Hey presto! You have a tasty supper.

Butternut squash, blue cheese and ricotta tart

Pasta is always popular in our house, particularly as a quick dinner after a busy day at work and school. We all loved this yummy sausage and courgette pasta carbonara from Chez Foti. Definitely a dish we’ll be making again. And again.

Sausage and courgette pasta carbonara from Chez Foti

Pasta makes another appearance in my list of highlights. Broad bean tops arrived in our veg box the other week. I have to admit I had no idea you could eat them but they are quite delicious; like a cross between pea shoots and chard. I used them in this recipe from Riverford for pasta with broad bean tops, ricotta and mint, which was very good indeed. We are growing broad beans in our vegetable patch, so I look forward to experimenting some more with this new ingredient.

Pasta with broad bean tops, ricotta and mint

Egg fried rice is an excellent speedy supper and so versatile too. You can throw in whatever you have to hand or need to use up. I cooked up a big wok full of egg fried rice the other night with peas and red pepper, served up with lashings of soy sauce and hot chilli oil. My kind of fast food. Yum.

Egg fried rice with peas and peppers

Last but not least comes the Full English pizza. Yes, you’ve guessed it. Pizza topped with all those staples of the traditional cooked English brekky: sausage, bacon, tomato, spinach and egg. I wanted to use mushroom as well but my daughter Jessie hates them with a passion. You’re probably thinking it sounds completely OTT and you’re probably right, but it was so tasty and very, very moreish. I can’t believe I’ve never tried it before.

The Full English Pizza

Well I think that’s it for now. I’m rather pleased to be able to look back and see the highs far outweigh the lows. I’m definitely getting better at this cooking lark, I think. Now, time for those meal plans…

Monday 11 June
Lunch: pasta with broad bean tops, ricotta and mint 
Dinner: Bangers & Mash bake (F)

Tuesday 12 June 
Lunch: tuna mayonnaise rolls
Dinner: butternut squash tart with spinach, blue cheese and ricotta

Wednesday 13 June
Lunch: rice salad
Dinner: sausage and courgette pasta carbonara

Thursday 14 June
Lunch: cheese and pickle rolls
Dinner: baked potatoes with garlic mushrooms and salad

Friday 15 June
Lunch:  pasta salad
Dinner: egg fried rice with peas and red peppers

Saturday 16 June
Lunch: cheese and tomato on toast
Dinner: courgette and summer greens pie and salad

Sunday 17 June
Lunch: OUT
Dinner: cold courgette and summer greens pie

Monday 18 June
Lunch: hummus, pitta bread and salad
Dinner: lamb and rosemary crumble with new potatoes

Tuesday 19 June
Lunch: ham salad rolls
Dinner: the Full English pizza with salad

Wednesday 20 June
Lunch: cous cous salad
Dinner: red Thai curry with tofu and vegetables

Thursday 21 June
Lunch: cheese and pickle rolls
Dinner: chicken and ginger stir fry with noodles

Friday 22 June
Lunch: wet garlic, tomatoes and mozzarella on toast
Dinner: pasta with pesto and cream cheese

Saturday 23 June
Lunch: bread and cheese
Dinner: pork chops with rice, asparagus and carrots

Sunday 24 June
Lunch: homemade ham with Finnish mustard and herby focaccia
Dinner: cheese omelette

F = from freezer

Spaghetti with wild garlic pesto

I’ve been swept away on an aromatic love affair with wild garlic in the last few weeks. As well as my delicious wild garlic risotto, it has also featured in many salads and has livened up our mashed potato. But this whirlwind romance is set to end all too soon. While there are still lots to be seen in the local hedgerows, it won’t be long before their leaves wither and the flowers wilt.

I have, however, come across the perfect way to capture this garlicky essence of early spring – by making up a large jar of wild garlic and walnut pesto. Divine.

This recipe comes from River Cottage, who say it will keep it in the fridge for up to three weeks and can also be frozen. They also say it makes 5 x 200g jars but I only got one large jar out of it. It’s not a problem though as I think this will keep us going quite a while.

The pesto tastes fresh and green (if you know what I mean) and packs a strong tasty punch so you don’t need too much of it. For its first outing, I served it very simply stirred through a dish of spaghetti and only needed to  use a couple of spoonfuls to get the full effect. I’m looking forward to trying it as a crostini or pizza topping next and, according to River Cottage, it’s also good stirred into soups and stews.

Spaghetti with wild garlic pesto

100g wild garlic leaves (carefully washed – I found a couple of slugs in mine!)
50g spring onions, chopped
50g walnut pieces
200ml good olive oil
70g Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
spaghetti, allow 75-100g per person

Remove any thick stalks from the wild garlic and put in a food processor with the walnuts, spring onions, and 150 ml of olive oil.

Give it all a good blitz until everything is finely chopped and you have a beautifully thick, vibrantly green salsa.

Stir in the grated Parmesan, salt and sugar. Then pour into sterilised jam jars.

The advice here from River Cottage  is to ensure you press the pesto down well with the back of a spoon to get rid of any air bubbles and leave room at the top of the jar for a layer of olive oil. Every time you use the pesto, mix in the oil before you take a spoonful, and replace with another layer of oil before replacing the lid and returning to the fridge.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions. Drain and stir in a spoonful or two of the wild garlic pesto to taste. Enjoy!